Bailey's Story

Bailey's Story

When Bailey Richardson's family was invited to take part in Phoenix Children's Hospital's Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day, the girl's mom resisted at first.

"Bailey doesn't have a congenital heart defect," Jennifer protested to Wendy Pauker, a Child Life Specialist for the hospital. Pauker had to explain that the term was a classification belonging to anyone born with a heart problem -- even the Richardsons' healthy, precocious 3-year-old. Though Bailey has undergone two heart surgeries, she requires no ongoing treatment -- no diet restrictions, and no medications.

"As much as she went through, it's all been repaired," Jennifer said. "There's nothing this kid can't do besides be an Olympic sprinter."

But getting to this comfortable place was not easy.

The first sign of trouble came just a few hours after Bailey's uneventful birth at a community hospital. After Jennifer had nursed her baby for the first time, her husband, Ray, took Bailey to the hospital nursery so the couple could get some sleep. A nurse said she'd bring the baby back to the room three hours later for a second feeding, but failed to show up at the appointed time. When Ray went to the nursery to investigate, Bailey was nowhere to be found.

"I can't find her," Ray reported helplessly to his wife. Then a nurse practitioner arrived to deliver a difficult explanation: Bailey had coded in the nursery, and was being airlifted to another hospital (not Phoenix Children's) for treatment in an intensive care nursery.

Bailey was with a set of heart problems serious enough to require open-heart surgery when she was just eight days old. The operation extended from an expected six hours to more than 13 when other problems -- including a hole in Bailey's heart -- were discovered. Yet Jennifer remained strangely calm.

"I had a peace that she would be OK," Jennifer said. "She had a big, fat guardian angel." Bailey went home six weeks later on nothing stronger than baby aspirin.

"Her heart was fixed," Jennifer said. Or so they thought.

Bailey's surgeon had told the Richardsons there was a slim chance -- about 5 percent -- that their daughter would later experience a narrowing of her pulmonary artery requiring a second surgery when she was a bit older.

"Bailey fell into that 5 percent," Jennifer said, explaining that an echocardiogram last October revealed a blockage in the pulmonary valve. "Her heart was starting to have to work too hard."

Surgery was set for January, at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Bailey's parents tried to take comfort in the fact that this operation was much less complicated than the one their daughter had endured as a newborn.

"This was a walk in the park compared to what she'd been through," Jennifer said. But, for her parents, "this was a hundred times harder."

They'd had nearly four years to become attached to this lively little girl who sings, dances and "thinks she's going to be the next American Idol," Jennifer says.

"She won't walk from point A to point B," her mom says. "She's dancing, she's singing. She's a little goofball."

"She's just got this little personality," Jennifer adds.

And though the surgery was expected to be a success, it was hard not to fear the worst.

"Those fears always come in -- what if something happens?" Jennifer says. "It's just awful the things that go through your mind."

They were glad to be at Phoenix Children's at such a time. "That hospital's awesome," Jennifer says. "You never felt like you were in a hospital. Everything is so kid-friendly there."

A pre-surgery tour helped calm Bailey's fears before her operation, and an abundance of toys and videos kept her entertained afterward. And though most children have to be coaxed into their first steps after heart surgery, Bailey was more than willing to leave the confines of her room.

"She didn't have to be told to walk," Jennifer says. "She wanted to walk." The day after her surgery, Bailey wanted to be continually in motion -- either strolling, with IV in tow, or being pulled in a wagon, up and down the hallways of the Intensive Care Unit.

"She just didn't want to be in her room," Pauker remembers.

Two months later, Bailey is back to her active life of singing, dancing, gymnastics and playing the role of "cruise director" for her preschool class. She has no limitations and no need for future surgery or treatment.

"There's nothing that has stopped this kid," Jennifer says. "We're very blessed that she is so healthy." 

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